Along with other cuts in state programs, Governor Gregoire’s proposed 2011-2013 budget eliminates all funding for Washington State Tourism. As outlined, Washington State Tourism would cease operation in its current form by June 30, 2011. The legislature will convene in January to develop a final budget, but even so, things do not look very good for the state tourism office at this time.
Washington has languished near the bottom of state tourism funding for many years. In 2007, Governor Gregoire established the Washington State Tourism Commission which bolstered funding and led to a much-needed six-year strategic marketing plan to promote Washington as a premier travel destination.
However, even the governor’s steadfast support cannot save the state tourism program in the face Washington State’s deep revenue shortfalls.
Like many other states, Washington is facing unprecedented budget deficits. Elected officials are having to make hard choices as to what services to keep and what services to cut or eliminate. Cutting economic development activities like tourism may further worsen the economic situation. Tourism marketing activities generate taxes that support government programs, not to mention supports jobs for our citizens, further generating economic activity that results in more taxes for state and local governments. Each year, visitors spend more than $14 billion statewide. Tourism supports 147,000 jobs and produces nearly $1.0 billion in state and local taxes. Tourism is jobs, economic development and is an important part of our communities.
There may be those who think Washington State will be fine without a coordinated state tourism marketing effort, that visitors will come anyway. Research shows otherwise. In 1993, Colorado became the only state to eliminate its tourism marketing function, when it cut its $12 million promotional budget to zero. As a result, Colorado’s domestic market share plunged 30% within two years, representing a loss of over $1.4 billion in tourism revenue annually. Over time, the revenue loss increased to well over $2 billion yearly. It took until the year 2000 for the industry to convince the legislature to reinstate funding with a modest $5 million budget. Research tracked the effectiveness of the state’s tourism campaigns over the next few years, and demonstrated an ROI of 12:1. In 2006, Governor Bill Owens signed a bill upping the tourism promotion budget to $19 million. By 2007, travel to Colorado rebounded to an all-time high, with 28 million visitors spending $9.8 billion. Here’s a short video that explains why marketing a destination is important.
The past few months a group of industry and public officials have been discussing the creation of a new, more stable model for state tourism funding. We are reviewing other state tourism models for a new approach. We are discussing how we should proceed from here, tell the story of why tourism matters and keep statewide marketing and promotional efforts on track. It’s a long road ahead, but if we do not travel it Washington will lose visitors, jobs and economic vitality.
President and CEO, Yakima Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau
For more information on why Tourism Matters, click here.